The forced internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry during World War II was one of the most shameful episodes in our country’s history. Thousands of people were uprooted from their homes and livelihoods for no other reason than they happened to look like or share a country of origin with the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. For the last seventy years we have been trying to make amends, going so far as to issue an official apology on behalf of the United States from Ronald Reagan in 1988.
Now there are those who are citing that horrible chapter as an inspiration on how to deal with Syrian refugees. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you David Bowers, mayor of Roanoke, Virginia:
President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it appears that the threat of harm to America from Isis now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.
Seriously? He’s using that as a talking point for setting up concentration camps? (Well, at least he didn’t suggest that we offer everyone a shower before being put into the camps.)
George Takei has a response:
Mayor Bowers, there are a few key points of history you seem to have missed:
1) The internment (not a “sequester”) was not of Japanese “foreign nationals,” but of Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens. I was one of them, and my family and I spent 4 years in prison camps because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. It is my life’s mission to never let such a thing happen again in America.
2) There never was any proven incident of espionage or sabotage from the suspected “enemies” then, just as there has been no act of terrorism from any of the 1,854 Syrian refugees the U.S. already has accepted. We were judged based on who we looked like, and that is about as un-American as it gets.
3) If you are attempting to compare the actual threat of harm from the 120,000 of us who were interned then to the Syrian situation now, the simple answer is this: There was no threat. We loved America. We were decent, honest, hard-working folks. Tens of thousands of lives were ruined, over nothing.
I admire Mr. Takei for a lot of reasons, not the least for being a wonderful punster as well as a role model for gay people, but he also has a life experience that he has turned into a lesson for us all.
Mr. Bowers, on the other hand, does a fine job of showing us how to be an asshole and put it out there in an official statement.